Sánchez's 'unacceptable' first-inning woes haunt Marlins

May 19th, 2024

MIAMI – The time is now for Marlins right-hander to prove he can be a big league starter. The frustration is mounting and the patience wearing thin based on manager Skip Schumaker’s strong words following Sunday afternoon’s 7-3 loss to the Mets at loanDepot park that snapped the club’s season-long four-game win streak.

Sánchez’s first-inning woes continued with a four-run frame that required a career-high 40 pitches. It ballooned his first-inning ERA to 19.80 compared to 1.88 in the other frames of his five starts.

“I don't know [the root of the issue], but that's unacceptable in the first inning, so if he wants to start at this level, he's going to have to be better in the first inning. It's just what it is,” Schumaker said. “We had a heart-to-heart underneath, and so did [pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.].”

When asked about Schumaker’s challenge, Sánchez said via interpreter Will Nadal: “Like I said before, I think it's just about that first inning, making sure that I'm giving my team an opportunity to win. I think it's something that I have to be prepared to go out there and compete. And that's what I'm going to keep trying to do.”

Things got off to an ominous start when Sánchez’s first pitch -- an 87 mph offering -- hit Francisco Lindor. The ensuing pitch got past catcher Christian Bethancourt and advanced Lindor to second. By the 17th pitch of the frame, Stottlemyre had visited the mound.

Following Tyrone Taylor’s and Harrison Bader’s two-run knocks, right-hander Emmanuel Ramirez, who was recalled from Triple-A Jacksonville to provide the bullpen with a fresh arm after Saturday’s 10-inning victory, began warming up.

It was a less-than-ideal situation for both the Marlins and Sánchez, who missed the past three seasons with shoulder trouble. With his injury history, that taxing of a frame could make him susceptible to injury. Had Sánchez, who would reach 96.1 mph later in the frame, been unable to retire Omar Narváez to end the first, Schumaker was going to pull him.

Sánchez managed to hold the Mets scoreless over the next three frames on 45 pitches before giving way to the bullpen, which put up zeroes until righty Anthony Bender surrendered three two-out runs in the ninth.

“I've seen what everybody's seeing,” Bethancourt said. “Gets in trouble in the first inning, and then after that pitches like Pedro Martinez. We've got to find a way -- I'm sure we'll do something -- talk to him a lot. We still don't know the reason why he starts like that, but there's a lot of positive things out of him. And I think he's going to be better.”

According to Schumaker, the Marlins have tried everything to see different results from the get-go. More and fewer pitches in the pregame bullpen. More and less work in the weight room. More and less time in the training room. Perhaps the club needs an opener? Nothing has stuck.

It’s up to the Marlins as a collective unit to help Sánchez figure it out, in Schumaker’s opinion.

“I think it's with my arm positioning,” said Sánchez, whose 85 total pitches were the most he has thrown since Sept. 13, 2020. “I think it's about warming up better. I think coming out there being a little bit more warmed up and ready, then being able to execute my pitches.”

The main reason Sánchez, who made the Opening Day roster out of the bullpen, is in the rotation is because of the starting-pitching injuries. Right-handers Sandy Alcantara and Eury Pérez are out for the season, while Edward Cabrera is sidelined with a right shoulder impingement for the second time in 2024. Left-handers Jesús Luzardo and Braxton Garrett recently returned.

If Sánchez isn’t going to have swing-and-miss stuff (just four whiffs but 18 fouls), he needs to be elite inducing ground balls, per Schumaker. Entering the series finale, Sánchez had a 50.6 percent ground-ball rate (54.9 percent is MLB average). He got four flyouts, four groundouts and two strikeouts on Sunday.

“I've said this before: The changes that we're trying to do are not working, so we have to keep trying to find something,” Schumaker said. “I'm not going to give up on him. We're not going to give up on him, but he's not a top prospect anymore. Like it's time to go. If he wants to start, he's got to figure this part out if he wants to be a starter. We think he’s a starter that shows you what he can do second through fifth innings.”